Show Love to MKs Transitioning to College in the US

portrait of female college student smiling at camera

Throughout the summer, many International Mission Board workers will send their kids back to the United States to start college. This is an incredibly emotional time for us as parents, and it can be so challenging for our kids as they navigate a new culture—the American culture!

Because these missionary kids—sometimes called third-culture kids (TCKs)—look and sound like other Americans (mine even have a proper Southern drawl), people expect them to feel at home when they come to the States for college. But many of them have spent most of their life outside of the States and the transition for them can be like riding a rollercoaster: both exhilarating and terrifying with lots of ups and downs. Please pray for these kids and for their parents in these next weeks and months.

Here are a few insights and ways to help, in case you have the opportunity to love on some of our kids. It will mean so much to parents who must return to the field and to the kids they leave behind!

  1. Invite TCKs (and maybe a friend of theirs) over for a meal at your home, giving a specific date and time for them to come. Many well-meaning church members offer an open invitation: “We’d love to have you over; come any time!” However, very few of our kids will call someone they barely know, saying, “Hey, can I come over for dinner tomorrow?” For those kids living in a dorm, weekends can be especially lonely as others head home and they’re left behind in an enormous empty building. When you have them over for a meal, ask them to tell you about some things that they liked about their overseas home or about things they are missing. Give them an opportunity to share their world with you.
  2. Ask if you can help them settle into their new home, and again, offer specific ways. In our case, a friend’s father knows about cars. He searched online for good options in the area. Then we came in and in a few days were able to find the right used car for our daughter, Bekah. Other friends donated furniture they no longer needed. This was a huge blessing for Bekah! Because she previously had no home in America, she brought only what could fit in her suitcase; she had no bed, no dresser, no towels/sheets/blankets—nothing that she could move out of her room at home and into her dorm room. If a TCK doesn’t have a car, offer to take him or her to a discount store or a second-hand shop at a specific day and time.
  3. Ask if there are any automated processes that they want help with. Opening a bank account (even using an ATM or using a debit card at the checkout line), choosing a phone plan, signing up for cable/Internet, pumping gas at a digital pump—all these things are necessary but can be extremely intimidating to someone who has lived in a country where they are not common.
  4. If you know their parents, then write them and ask if they know of any needs for their child. When our daughter was a sophomore, even though she’d been living in America for 2 years, she had no idea where to go when her car needed to be inspected. Because we had never lived in that city, we didn’t know either. (You could also write and ask for the recipe for a favorite dish or dessert that Mom makes and surprise them with it!)
  5. Offer a ride to the airport if they have the opportunity to return overseas to spend Christmas with their family. Or invite them to join your family if they are not able to go home and have nowhere to go to celebrate Christmas. This is particularly lonely. Even if they have plans for the actual day, Christmas break can be several weeks, and they may need somewhere to spend a few nights until dorms reopen for the spring semester.
  6. Make your storeroom or extra space in your garage available for TCKs to store some of their things when they return to the missions field for the summer. At this moment, Bekah has things stored with several people.
  7. And while it may seem silly, take a picture with our kids and let us know you’re loving on them. We love every opportunity to see our kids, and what a blessing to know that someone else is looking out for them in our stead!

You can also help TCKs transition to college life in the United States through scholarships and retreats. Visit the WMU Foundation to learn more about supporting these opportunities.

Jackie Kirkpatrick is a missionary in Macedonia and she sent a child back to the United States to start college in 2015.

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